Allensworth, now just a windswept ghost town, sits in the San Joaquin Valley, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. One thing separates the town’s history from that of other California ghost towns, however, which is that it was established and governed solely by Black Americans at a time when they had few rights or opportunities in the United States.
A tiny farming community, Allensworth represented a much more significant achievement than its modest size and looks suggest. In 1908, army veteran Colonel Allen Allensworth banded together with a number of other Black intellectuals and leaders to found their own town, where Black people could achieve the “American Dream” and build a life for themselves that wasn’t possible elsewhere due to discrimination and institutional racism. Black farmers, ranchers, craftsmen and business owners from around the country moved to the town.
The goal of the town’s namesake, Colonel Allensworth, had been to create the Californian equivalent of Tuskegee, Alabama, which was a haven of Black culture and a thriving society surrounding the Tuskegee Institute. For a time, the town of Allensworth truly was the “Tuskegee of the West.”
Sadly, after the death of Colonel Allensworth and increasing problems with the local water supply, the town began its decline, losing most of its residents by the middle of the century. In 1974, the abandoned town was designated Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park, and today only one of the buildings is original to the settlement. The rest were demolished prior to being granted historic status in 1966, due to high levels of arsenic in the soil. Reconstruction is an ongoing effort ever since cleanup was finished, so repeat visits are worth the trip, as are the frequent demonstrations by the Buffalo Soldiers Re-Enactors Association. Many visitors have been pleasantly surprised that the last man born in the town has made frequent trips to the park, and has been more than happy to share his personal stories of growing up there.
Know Before You Go
There are signs on California's Highway 99 in Earlimart to direct you to the Park, it's about 15 minutes from Earlimart.